Veterans’ pension increase announced

Prime minister John Howard has announced Cabinet has approved an increase in veterans funding of $267 million over five years.

Mr Howard says the government consulted extensively with veterans before announcing the package.

Last month, the Liberal party room rejected a draft veterans package and forced Cabinet to reconsider the deal.

Mr Howard says the right decision has been made now.

“We did take some proposals to the party room. It wanted the Cabinet to have another look at it. I don’t feel any sense of concern about that.

“Every so often, the party room is quite capable of greater wisdom than the Cabinet. The party room was right. The Cabinet did have another look. And this was the result.”

The new measures include exempting veterans’ disability pensions from means-tested income-support payments.

Pensions for totally and permanently disabled veterans will be indexed to inflation or male average weekly earnings, whichever is higher.

War widows will be given rent assistance, and funeral benefits will be almost doubled to 1,000 dollars.

Veterans’ disability benefits will be extended to groups such as veterans of the Berlin airlift.

During the airlift in 1963, when Russia blocked land access to west Berlin, Western Bloc countries flew food and other supplies into the city

There will be a one-off payment to prisoners of war from the Korean War or their widows.

Compensation will also be given to veterans who may have suffered during the British atomic testing in Australia in the 1950s.

There has been mixed reaction to the announcement.

The Returned and Services League says the package advances the veterans’ cause well, but there are still issues that need addressing.

But the RSL’s national president, Major General Bill Crews, says benefits should be extended to certain other veterans, including Commonwealth and Allied soldiers.

“We’d also like to have seen the $25,000 grant to ex-prisoners of war extended to those who were prisoners in Europe.

“We’d also liked to have seen an extension of benefits to those veterans who were from Commonwealth and Allied countries but who have now become Australian citizens.

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